The Tea Incident Case Study: Lessons in Social Identity Tensions, Diversity and Social Identity Conflict Management

By Lize Annie Eliza Booysen and Stella Nkomo.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This presentation focuses on a diversity and social identity conflict management teaching case that is used in the MBA leadership course at the largest South African Business School. It discusses an ordinary workplace incident, in an Insurance Company owned by a sizeable South African Bank, which spiralled into racial conflict, due to the high levels of social identity tension in South African organisations. The furore erupted when one of the White male managers falsely accused the Black females of using all the milk and sugar for their breakfast, and complained to the senior financial manager. The senior financial manager found the situation very uncomfortable and decided to put a stop to eating breakfast at work. The Black females were furious as they did not use milk and sugar with their vetkoek (a salty doughnut), and they were not been consulted on the matter at all. As a self-protection mechanism, they withdrew entirely, not even taking tea in office hours and buying their own milk and sugar. This caused a split in the office along racial lines,in effect segregation was used as a coping strategy. Even though all the necessary formal equity policies and procedures were in place at the Insurance Company, and aligned to SA labour legislation, the organisational culture is not yet inclusive, since the policies are not internalised, but rather legislated. More over, leadership in the organisation generally did not ‘walk the talk’, and did not take responsibility and accountability, especially with regards to the implementation of affirmative action and employment equity. Furthermore, the human resources department was not pro-active, and there was a strong perception that they supported management instead of the staff. This case illustrates that South African managers do not yet know how to deal effectively with social identity conflict in the workplace. It discussed solutions to the diversity management issues in the workplace.

Keywords: Teaching Case, Social Identity Conflict, Diversity Management, Organisational Culture Change

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp.97-106. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 581.377KB).

Dr. Lize Annie Eliza Booysen

Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership, Leadership Division, Graduate School of Leadership, University of South Africa, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

Lize is a professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership at University of South Africa's Graduate School of Business Leadership. She is included as one of 50 role models for South African women and as leadership expert in the book Inspirational Women @ Work, (2003). Lize holds an MA in Clinical Psychology cum laude (Rand Afrikaans University), an MA in Research Psychology cum laude, and an MA in Criminology cum laude (University of Pretoria). Her Doctorate in Business Leadership at UNISA is a pioneering study on The influences of race and gender on leadership attributes of South African managers.

Prof. Stella Nkomo

Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership, Leadership Division, Graduate School of Leadership, University of South Africa, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

A former Scholar-in-Residence at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College of Harvard University, her nationally recognized work on race and gender in organizations and managing diversity appears in numerous journals, edited volumes, and magazines. She is listed in Who’s Who in the Managerial Sciences. She received her Ph. D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an MBA from the University of Rhode Island and a BS from Bryant College. Her research and consulting work on race and gender and diversity management in South African organisations has also won numerous awards and accolades.


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